Ad Costs of a Free Press

To be honest, I gave up on television news a long time ago. It started about the time that I read an article stating that Americans were going to see news programs designed more as entertainment than hard-hitting journalism. We had been seeing this in morning television, which has always had the reputation of being lighter. The stigma must be true as so many hosts have fled or have tried to flee from their friendly sofas to those coveted evening anchor chairs.

Cable news gets accused of abusing the term “breaking news,” and this wolf-crying technique has trickled down to local news stations. It’s difficult enough to watch local news at its designated times, especially in Los Angeles, without frequent interruptions throughout the day to announce that they’ve learned nothing more about the high-speed chaser, the shooter, the missing hiker, the armed standoff or the kidnapped kid.

Rather than bother us with nothing to report, how about returning to an earlier style of journalism where reporters find out who, what, how, where, when and why, write it up and report it at an agreed upon time, say at 6:00 and 11:00 each evening?

As we have it now, with reporters who look like fashion models, it’s like having a glamorous friend who goes to the scene and Skypes with you while describing everything that’s not going on while getting the opinions of the people walking by. The passerby on last night’s news who arrived at the beach right after a sheet was draped over a dead body is probably a very nice person, but what does her opinion about the arrival of the coroner’s van have to do with the story? And we could’ve done without her speculation as to the cause of death when her statement began with “I don’t know, but…”

Then there are the anchors in the studio. I have serious doubts about the quality of news when it looks like one of the Real Housewives of Wherever has dropped by the station to take a seat behind the desk. Last night’s anchor was wearing a silk number with spaghetti straps and darts so pronounced that it appeared her bosom was reporting the low temperature of the studio. Could it be that she had just come from a very elegant pool party in Beverly Hills in time to present the news?

And on the subject of physical appearance, if you don’t live in Los Angeles, you should see our weather girls. There are a few meteorologists still checking the Southern California skies, but the majority have been replaced with former lingerie models whose only qualification for the jobs is having mastered the difficulty of working with a green screen. A recent visitor from out of state exclaimed that you would never see someone giving the weather report in a miniskirt and a Wonder Bra where she lives!

Los Angeles weather is very much the same, so constantly hearing about clear skies, ocean breezes and a high of 75 requires bare thighs and prominent cleavage to break up the monotony of our unchanging weather. I grew up in Tornado Alley where a girl doing the weather dressed in a tight outfit would’ve caused the demise of an entire county by not hearing her say to get in the cellar.

Looking at floats from the Pasadena Rose Parade on a beautifully clear day.
Looking at floats from the Pasadena Rose Parade on a beautifully clear day.

Of course, it must be said that Los Angeles has its share of bad weather. About four times each winter, the clouds roll in from the Pacific Ocean, and we feel the first sprinkles of a winter rain if we’re lucky. An overcast day is uncommon enough that you turn on the TV to see Stormwatch, Stormcenter, Mega Doppler or some other indicator that the Great Flood is coming and you didn’t build an ark. TV stations send vans of reporters all over the county to various points to check the weather conditions. The reporters for these non-stories are usually rookies or veterans who’ve upset management. One reporter who had an affair with an interview subject found herself donning rubber boots and a parka as she sat in a van in the mountains hoping to see a few snowflakes on a cold, damp night.

Before smartphones brought us the five-day weather forecast and traffic report at the push of a button, I relied on early morning local news. I gave up when it finally dawned on me that I would get more information if I took the anchors’ advice and visited their website. They weren’t lying. There were stories about things we’d never hear of on TV.

I returned to morning TV news just once more to compare what they had online to what they gave us during their 30-minute program. I turned on the news just after the top of the hour. I’d missed the headlines and was given the traffic report at 6:12 a.m. That was not particularly useful for me at that early hour, but I hung on for the weather. The girl whose vintage miniskirt indicated that she was honoring a Haigh-Ashbury love-in came on the screen to tell me that she would provide me with full weather details upon returning from commercial break. Why couldn’t she tell me right then?

More than five minutes of commercials, and the anchors came on to give a rundown of the morning’s headlines, which I’d missed. That was nice of them, and then we could get on with the weather. What? Another commercial break? Was I watching a show about TV commercials that was being interrupted by the news?

Another five minutes passed in which I learned the best places to buy new cars, mattresses, flooring and amusement park tickets (Disneyland is promoted by ABC and Universal Studios by NBC). The anchors appeared on the screen mid-banter as if I’d interrupted their best stories at a cocktail party. “Oh, you’re back again,” they had probably wanted to say. “We gave you the headlines already. You want weather? Fine.”

The weather girl came on the screen, turned to a flattering angle, and told me that I could expect a “change in the weather.” When might I find out the details? “When we come back!” If watching channel five, a commercial tells me to read the LA Times. Both are part of the same company, so this comes as no surprise. Following the next commercial break, the bantering anchors appeared to be focused on something. Could Breaking News preempt the actual news?

“I just posted pictures of me participating at the fun-run last weekend,” said the female anchor. “I’ve already got forty likes! Follow us on Twitter and Facebook!” I felt as though I’d interrupted a slumber party for teen girls, but before they forgot what they were there for, they yelled out “Time for that update on traffic!”

The traffic report at this hour of the morning always seems to start off with “We’ve got an overturned big-rig at the ten and Azusa…” I don’t know what it is about I-10 at Azusa or the 210 in Irwindale, but either the truck drivers lack the skills to make it safely through these treacherous stretches of highway, or else it’s the Devil’s Triangle of freeways. I’m so distracted by pondering what’s causing this near daily occurrence of flipped semis that I forget to hear the thirty-second, five-day forecast for all five Los Angeles regions.

Southern California during winter. No sign of a Pacific storm today.
Southern California during winter. No sign of a Pacific storm today.

Is it going to rain? Will the Santa Anas blow? Should I prepare to house my friends who might be threatened by mudslides or fire? I’ll be able to find out for sure if I forget about watching TV and go on Facebook to see the meteorologist’s latest posts. The report is right there between the post on finding the best café latte on the west side and how to find the best Pilates coach in the Valley. If you scroll slowly enough you will see it: “IDK when rain will come, but x-pct a mess! #traffic #forecast #405 #carmageddon #buildanark Follow me!”

And for anyone who thinks the evening news broadcasts on the major networks are going to provide you with fresh information, think again. Cable news runs 24/7 and gives the headlines though they, too, have very little real news to report. It’s mostly opinion from people whose opinions don’t matter. Still, they blather on round the clock.

The thirty-minute broadcasts on the networks are actually far less than that, and in case you weren’t aware, those news broadcasts are  now sponsored. They’ve always had commercials, but now they have sponsors who run incredibly long commercials in between segments. Why so long? Do the anchors need to make costume changes between stories on school shootings and rescued kittens?

As I say, I don’t watch TV news very much, but I thought I should if I were going to write about it. I really wanted to know who was sponsoring the news. It appears that pharmaceutical companies have gotten a firm foothold, and the target audience is senior citizens who are probably the only ones still loyal to this medium.

Right after a report on the Supreme Court, a commercial came on for a medication for post-menopausal vaginal pain. Several nicely dressed mature women with beautifully styled hair came on the screen to describe how they feel. Obviously these women are actors because I can’t think of anyone their age who would shed all dignity to provide such intimate details. Then it occurred to me: if there are enough sufferers for “Big Pharma” to research and develop a drug, PMVP, as it surely must be called, must have reached epidemic proportions.

After the complaints, the announcer promises that all of this discomfort can be gotten rid of if you see your doctor and he or she agrees to prescribe their medication. Then he rapidly listed all the side effects, which was quite literally aegrescit medendo (the remedy is worse than the disease). Prevention would be far better than taking the medication, but what could be causing this outbreak of pain when we’ve gone so many years without hearing a single complaint from little old ladies who used to dwell on their arthritis?

At the next commercial break, an older couple was walking along the beach. Again, it was clear that the drug companies know their audience. The ad’s subject was vague at first, and then I heard “For erections lasting more than four hours, seek medical attention.”

Years ago, scientists were quick to find solutions for erectile dysfunction. Some questioned the swiftness of FDA approval. Could it be that there is another side effect that has not been mentioned within the confines of the commercial? It’s obvious to me that there is a connection between PMVP and ED.

These poor women who had once thought they’d be left alone after a certain age are now being bothered by their husbands long after they thought possible. Is cutting off the Viagra supply the best cure for PMVP? If you’re waiting to hear the latest findings on the news, you’re out of luck.

© 2014 by Patrick Brown

5 Replies to “Ad Costs of a Free Press”

  1. As always, you nailed it. You manage to say what many of us are thinking. As for Big Pharma, they have taken over the TV ads. Like you said, the side affects are worse than the disease….so true. BUT, they keep advertising and people keep asking for those drugs. I could say more, but as always, I enjoyed “Ad Costs of a Free Press.”


  2. Weather report? I look up at the sky every morning. I mean what is the worst that can happen in northern CA other than the unpredictable earthquake? Traffic report? Our local NPR while driving. News and absolutely everything else about our world? The New York Times subscription on my iPad. Viagra et al? This has nothing to do with the context, but did you know that Hobby Lobby has no problem with its health insurance company covering that male wonder drug as well as vasectomies? Betcha’ they won’t allow a PMVP drug. It may prevent a 60 year old from getting pregnant…..


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